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He's the youngest NRL club CEO in the game, and recently unveiled Penrith Panthers CEO Corey Payne says the NRL and the sport in general can help kids realise the benefits of further education.  

In the 12 months following his rugby league retirement in 2012 – after a 131-game career – Payne completed a Masters of Commerce degree at the University of Sydney, was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and unveiled as NSW's Young Australian of the Year. 

His fellowship allowed him to head overseas to visit 19 organisations which helped shaped his Churchill Fellowship report, titled: 'Realising the full potential value of sports as a pathway to success for disadvantaged kids'.  

"My Churchill report was based around how sport could be used for social change. At the core of that, sport is the hook. I learnt that not only in the NRL but also globally at Man United, FC Barcelona, Sao Paulo and other organisations," Payne told 

"It's imperative as well to have a business case and a structured approach – in terms of timing, sequencing, resourcing and so forth – but more importantly you have to design for a specific user.  

"Kids in Western Sydney aren't the same as kids in favelas in Brazil or in townships in Johannesburg, which required a design thinking approach," he added, having also studied a year-long Advanced Design Thinking course in Germany.  

"I feel my learnings from the fellowship too can be applied at this club, and sport is that platform. It's the glue that brings people together regardless of background, status or ethnicity, especially here in Australia." 

The 31-year-old has also demonstrated his deep passion for further education by founding the Future Direction Network in 2009 – an organisation that "aims to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds continue their university education".  

"I've taken the [Future Direction Network] from a start-up venture to a sustainable business model and we recently announced 2016's scholarship recipients. We've now committed $198,000 to 11 students across five NSW universities," Payne said. 

"That journey, having dealt with Prime Ministers, premiers and CEOs, gives me good confidence that I can manage stakeholders. 

"More recently I've spent 10 months at Woolworths in the largest corporate transformation office in Australia. And if anyone has followed Woolworths lately, it's been a tough time for the business.  

"It's been the darling of the Australian stock market for a very long time and had a big write-down in the last reporting session. It's taught me great skills and I've worked with a lot of senior stakeholders so I feel very confident it's set me up for this role." 

Payne is excited to work alongside Penrith's 'Panthers on the Prowl' community development foundation and confirmed it will continue to be resourced under his watch. 

"The 'Panthers on the Prowl' community program has done great things. It's helped 25,000 young people and it'll continue to be resourced to achieve good social change," Payne said. 

"The western corridor is a big place with varying levels of socio-economic statuses and education is the key to unlock a lot of its potential. It's something I'm very passionate about and it's changed my life, has further education."

This article first appeared on

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.